Previewing the Red Hot Louisville Cardinals

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Boy I wish Cincinnati played Louisville a month ago. Injuries wreaked havoc on the Cardinals’ roster early in the season but UL managed to get through their non-conference schedule unscathed. But the season looked like it was starting to fall apart when Louisville entered Big East play. The Cardinals dropped 4 of their first 6 conference games including an embarrassing 41-point loss to the Providence Friars on January 10th. Yikes!

Unfortunately the Bearcats are catching the Cardinals at exactly the wrong time. There is no team in the Big East playing better basketball right now, other than maybe Notre Dame and Syracuse, that Louisville who have won 7 of their last 8 games. Their lone hiccup in that stretch? A 52 – 51 loss to the Syracuse Orange. The good news for Cincinnati is that they will be hosting this game and 5/3rd will surely be rocking under blackout conditions on national television. It will certainly be a hostile environment the Cardinals will find themselves in on Thursday night.

Key Numbers

You can tell Mick Cronin comes from the Rick Pitino coaching tree because both coaches value depth and spreading the wealth offensively. Louisville has six players that average more than 8 points per game and with Wayne Blackshear working his way back into the lineup he is approaching that mark. This depth is further reflected in how Pitino has spread out the minutes he gives his players; 10 players averaging 11 or more minutes played per game. Some of the playing time is due to the injuries Louisville sustained early in the season but it’s clear the Cardinals have depth and Pitino will use that to keep his starters rested. This allows UL to have an extra jump in their step especially in the paint. Louisville is one of the best rebounding teams in the Big East at over 39 per game. Even more so, they are equally good at guarding the boards on offense (5th in the Big East) as well as defense (2nd in the Big East). Typically teams are really good at one but not so much the other. The Cardinals are very good at both and it’s one of the reasons why they’ve won 21 games this season.

Players to Watch

– Peyton Siva (#3) vs. Cashmere Wright: It’s point guard vs. point guard as these two juniors hook up once again. They know each other very well but Cash it seems has gotten the better of Siva statistically over the past few years. Both run their respective offenses and are built very similarly but Siva is much more turnover-prone than his counterpart. His 1.7 assist/turnover ratio (253rd nationally) is horrible for a starting point guard and he gets into foul trouble quite frequently (over 3 per game). On the flip side, Cash’s assist/turnover ratio is a solid 2.0 and he very rarely gets into foul trouble (2 per game). Hopefully this trend continues Thursday night.

– Chane Behanan (#24): He is Louisville’s version of Justin Jackson except much more polished and a more talented scorer. UC fans who follow basketball recruiting should know him well as he spurned Cincinnati in favor of signing with the Cardinals. Unfortunately the Bearcats will have to face this sparkplug in the coming years. While he has short arms for a forward, he’s extremely quick and goes after the ball with aggression. Essentially he makes up for his size with pure effort and is one of the reasons why he is second on the team in rebounds.

– Kyle Kuric (#14)/Chris Smith (#5): As a team the Cardinals don’t shoot the 3-ball that well. But these two absolutely light it up from beyond the arc. Kuric shoots 36% from three point land and Smith is even better at 41%. Look for Rick Pitino to try his darnedest to get these guys open looks. Cincinnati has a tendency to slowly recover from high-screens which leaves shooters with precious seconds to hit wide open threes. This can’t happen tomorrow night.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

Mick Cronin will be facing another one of his mentors Thursday night in Rick Pitino. For whatever reason, maybe that was it, the Bearcats always seem to play their best ball against the Louisville Cardinals. Cincinnati is currently riding a two-game winning streak in this series and will have the advantage of a blacked out 5/3rd Arena backing them. UL is playing its best basketball right now but there are a lot of factors in this game that are working in UC’s favor. This is going to be a toughy but I can see the Bearcats pulling this one out.

Cincinnati: 70

Louisville: 67